Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Journey - Chapter 5

On the evening of Monday, May 4, 2015, David Robertson was pitching in the bottom of the ninth inning against Toronto. The team was holding on to a two run lead. One out, and three runs later, the game was lost.  The next night, a one run advantage, two outs, no one on base. A single, a double, a wild pitch and a bloop hit later, Robertson had blown another save.

It is a funny thing that after being a student of the game for six decades, it is hard to tell exactly the moment when things are truly falling apart. May 4th, it turns out, was the beginning of an epic journey to the depths of Yankee lore.

The franchise had been in existence since 1903, first as the Highlanders, and then, beginning in 1913, as the Yankees. In all that time, the longest losing streak had been 13 games. That meant that come lousy pitching, worse hitting, bad coaching and terrible karma, even the most horrendous accumulation lacking talent or luck had found a way to snatch a solitary victory from the jaws of defeat before a  baseball fortnight had passed.

Robertson complained of a dead arm after the second debacle. In truth, he was probably hurting for some time.  Two days and one MRI later, he was done for the season with a torn rotator cuff.
If I had been at home watching the games on the tv between May 4 and May 19, I  would have undoubtedly informed my wife I would be willing to watch anything, anything else in which she was interested, even re-runs of Project Runway.

It was a train wreck playing out in slow motion. Except for a four game series at the Stadium with the Orioles, I spent those 15 days in Toronto, Tampa Bay, and Kansas City, squirming in my seat every night and day. Every possible way of losing was demonstrated and then repeated. The team, and I, were trapped in a cycle of misery.

By the time we reached our last stop, the streak was at 11. The local press was funny and brutal. Kansas City, which had forever been a downtrodden baseball town was now home to the AL champs. The axis of the world had shifted. "Yanks Make Reservations on Hindenburg" one headline exclaimed. Indeed this $200,000,000 mistake was going down in flames. It was only the middle of May and this was already a collection of the walking dead.

I was depressed. My son called me after defeat 13 to check in. "You are watching history" he told me, as if that would provide solace. He could sense the quiet desperation in my words. "Are you ok?" I was touched by his compassion and felt an overwhelming desire to get home on the next flight out. But there were still two more games to be played before that could happen.

This had to be a humiliating experience for the team. So many of them were accustomed to nothing but success, surrounded forever by sycophants, full of obsequious praise. Now they were being ridiculed, publicly flogged day after day and privately criticized relentlessly. Overpaid and underperforming was not a happy combination.

In the middle of this maelstrom was Joe Girardi. He of the marine style haircut and the look of a man who was forever ready to do battle. But this was more than even he could explain away. His job was on the line. He received the obligatory vote of confidence from those on high, meaning he was close to the unemployment line. Like the good soldier he was, he answered questions with stock responses night after night. And he prayed that his name would not soon be in the record books as the captain of the Titanic.

May 16th brought consecutive loss 13 and then the record for futility was cracked on Sunday May 17th with a national audience watching in collective delight. The mighty Yankees, the team of 27 World Championships, the home of everything strong and powerful, were mocking symbols of past glory. This was as bad as it gets.

That is until I twisted my ankle leaving the plane on the flight back to New York Sunday night. Talk about limping home. I was mentally and physically a wreck.

And then it got worse.

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